Ever since writing this blog, I’ve noticed how I lose followers when, for a while, I don’t specifically write about being transgender. I guess some people are hoping for specific insights into a trans existence. But what is a trans existence? The truth is – and I can’t stress this often enough – we are all the sum of our experiences. That being said, no matter what I do and write, being trans (or being categorized as trans in our society) is undeniably part of who I am.
However, when you are trans it isn’t foremost on your mind every single day. It isn’t what you think and talk about all the time. It just is. I transitioned 25 years ago. Yes, I have faced and still face many challenges because of being trans. But, in essence, I am facing what everyone else does. Like every other human out there, I fight my battles, struggle, grow, love, hurt, long to belong, long to be loved, and aim to find a healthy balance between taking care of myself and taking care of others.
Over the years, what has become most important for me is to open my mind wide and see beyond the labels. If I am any sort of activist, then this is it: I fight for a world of compassion and mutual respect. A world in which labels become obsolete.
The more I experience life all over the globe, the more I realize that, rather than focusing on what makes us all different, it is so much better to focus on what connects us. The best I can do for myself and for everyone else out there is to be authentic, ignore the labels, and rather write about life in all its rawness. I want to observe the world around me with empathy. I want to understand those around me, no matter what their background, and write about the beauty and painfulness of our shared existence.
The longer I think about it, I even wonder, “What does transgender mean?” I was born as who I am. The gender assignation of the body I was born with did not match with my soul. But my soul was always human. I was just another splotch of color in our diverse universe. No matter what my physical shell looked like at any point in time, inside of it I was always beautiful, flawed, unique, struggling Liam. Society will classify me as a trans male. I classify myself as male. But in the end, does it even matter?
I am Liam. And I believe that is enough.
Photo by Susanne Stauss
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by UBS Hong Kong to give a presentation about my life journey. It was my first ever speaking engagement in Hong Kong. The audience was wonderful. Curious, openminded, and not shy to bombard me with questions after the talk. Standing in the conference room on the 56th floor of the IFC tower, dramatic clouds piling up across the horizon, I was happy to be alive… and grateful to be given the chance to make a little difference.
Change is life. And, for me, the thought of heading into the unknown is invigorating. I am ready to dive in once more, leave this safe harbor, to simply trust and see where life will lead me.
While selling and giving away our belongings, I am amazed yet again by how little I truly need when it comes to material possessions.
As the apartment becomes gradually more empty, the cats enjoy chasing each other through the now vast, open spaces and I treasure the freedom of a light load. I feel like I can breathe again, as well as focus more easily on what really matters.
I miss my wife and am looking forward to joining her soon on the other side of the planet. Until that day – in seven weeks – the cats and I will be glamping in front of our large windows overlooking the city of Zurich. I’ll gaze out over the rooftops and give a toast to this beautiful place where I have found home and friendship twice already.
The perfect moment. Sunshine. A group of delighted scuba divers whom I had guided throughout the morning. Jackfish. Chilli Sauce. Sand as soft a velvet. Palm Trees. A blazing azure sky and turquoise sea all around us.
I enjoyed myself. Enjoyed to guide, coach, and drink in our surroundings with all my senses. It didn’t really matter who we all were that day. Social status, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation and all those things tending to divide us, gave way to simply breathing in the untainted tropical air and enjoying life together. Just for a little while, yesterday and tomorrow became so insignificant as to be non-existent.
I continue to be amused as well as annoyed (and sometimes a bit alarmed) by the endless gender bathroom debates. I am female-to-male transgender. When I was four years old, I knew I was a boy. Being born in a girl’s body, my parents kept sending me to bathrooms assigned to female gender even though I seemed to be more like a boy from an early age. Funnily enough, I kept getting thrown out of women’s bathrooms because the outraged ladies assumed I was a little man who had wandered into their domain either by accident or on purpose.
From my late teens onwards, and after I decided to go for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries to fully become the real me, I always went to where I felt I truly belonged when I needed to relieve myself: to the male bathroom. I have done so ever since.
I transitioned 25 years ago… so I’ve gone to the men’s bathroom in public places hundreds of thousands of times as you can imagine. I’ve shared this space with many other men who were never the wiser that right next to them was someone who had initially been born in a wrongly-gendered body. I’m sure they’re all still fine. None of them have been traumatized. None of them were infected with a trans virus. We crossed each others’ paths. Busy with our lives. Lost in our thoughts. A moment in time.
We’re all human. I am a guy much like many others. Even a bit boring at times. And I don’t need a gender neutral bathroom. To be honest, special bathrooms for people like me remind me too much of “only white”-“only black”-water fountains. We human beings do not need any more segregation. What we need is inclusion, diversity, open-mindedness, and compassion.
So I love this bathroom sign. Exactly. Let’s think centaurs, mermaids, unicorns, aliens, and homo sapiens. Just wash your hands. It doesn’t matter who you are. Be free. Be authentic. Don’t “present”. Be.
I am who I am. I don’t “present” as anything. I strongly disapprove of this expression being so widely used lately by the media and even by trans individuals themselves. No one on this planet “presents” as someone or something. The term in itself already insinuates someone being more of an idea or a concept, instead of a human being. It suggests he, she, or they are making a choice instead of dealing with the cards they have been given, trying to make the best of who they were born to be. Thinking of people “presenting” as their gender dehumanizes them, suggests they need to fulfil certain stereotypes to belong and be accepted.
We don’t need to fulfil anything. Stereotypes are highly overrated. None of us need to tick any boxes to belong or pacify most societies’ stubborn holding-on to the gender binary and other outdated constructs.
I am Liam. You won’t even recognise me as transgender when you meet me. And even if you do, so what. I am simply one more individual in the vast rainbow of humanity, trying as best I can to navigate my existence, be kind, responsible, happy, and fulfilled.
Uniting my body with my soul meant breaking the heart of the one person who had always been there for me – my oma (grandma). As the hormones took an ever-firmer hold, I tried explaining to her who I was. Unfortunately, she was becoming progressively more senile. Oma sadly asked for me. Countless times, she would ask Dad, “Why does Stefanie never come home to visit us anymore?”
Every time I visited, I would cook her favorite rice pudding. We would sit together at her small dining room table, holding hands and gazing together out the window at the night sky. Sometimes, say when there was a full moon, Oma would happily point and exclaim, “Look! The moon has come to say hello. Isn’t this magical?” It was. But, while my eyes followed her outstretched arm, she would try to hide my, to her palate, unsuccessful attempt at making rice pudding. She would spit the gelatinous mass quickly into her napkin and throw it under the table. I noticed each time this happened, but would always pretend I hadn’t. Immediately after she shuffled to another room, I would quickly grab a rag and bucket and clean up the mess. On other occasions, I would search for her dentures. Due to her ever-increasing senility, they would end up in the oddest places – inside flowerpots, in the oven, or under her bed.
During her clearer moments, Oma would look at me and I would hope to see a small spark of recognition in her searching eyes. Most times, though, her eyes would seek out Dad with a confused, heart-breaking expression on her beautiful, deeply-lined face that spoke of such a long, well-lived life.
“Konrad,” Oma would ask, “who is this nice young man who is taking such good care of me?”
To this day, it breaks my heart if I let myself think too much about Oma’s last years. I hope on some deeper level she understood I was always right by her side. She meant the world to me.
(Excerpt from Paralian, photograph from the year 2000, when I was 29, just after my transition, finally being myself. More info here)
LGBT, trans, and whatever shade in between, we’ve always been around. Be it amongst humans or within the plant and animal kingdom. Just another bunch of colors in the sparkling rainbow of creation.
”Oddly, humans are not the only animals that engage in cross-dressing or have transgender identity issues; a lot of animals also have “gender-bender” sex lives… All good and remember to respect all and love everyone for who they truly are. Always.” via Cute Nopes and https://terriermandotcom.blogspot.ch/2007/05/transexual-and-transgender-wildlife.html?m=1
Last Friday, I gave a presentation and read from my book ‘Paralian’ at the offices of The Boston Consulting Group in Zurich. Thanks so much to BCG for the opportunity! Special thanks to the amazing, open-minded, and engaged audience!